Award wining photographer, Mark Gee, shares his tips to create mesmerizing night panoramas

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We all love staring at the stars during clear summer nights. Mark Gee loves this so much that he decided to specialize in night photography and opened a photography business called “The Art of Night”!Mark cleverly combines long exposure and image stitching to create mesmerizing Milky Way panoramas. We interviewed him to learn more about his work and workflow to shoot perfect night sky panoramas:
Mark, what is your background and how did you come into panoramic photography?
I studied graphic design at art college, but then moved into doing visual effects in television, and then finally feature films. Photography has always been a passion of mine, and I liked the idea of capturing something closer to what the human eye would see rather than capturing a landscape shot on a super wide angled lens with all the distortions. Panoramic photography allowed me to do that and shoot with longer lenses but still get the wide field of view.
You specialize in night photography, what makes this very specific area so special to you? Did you wish to become an astronaut when you were younger?
I’ve always been interested in space and the night sky from an early age, but where I lived in Australia was heavily light polluted, so looking at the night sky there wasn’t very interesting. It wasn’t until I came to New Zealand to live that I saw night skies like I had never seen before, and that sparked my passion to go out and actually photograph what I saw. From that point on I’ve spent many nights under a starry sky trying to capture the beauty of it all for others to see.
Could you explain your workflow when it comes to night panoramas?
I usually shoot my large night panoramas on a Gigapan Epic Pro robotic pano head. Shooting these panos can take up to 30 minutes and during that time the night sky moves a fair bit, so it’s important to shoot in rows and columns so the sky movement between each image isn’t too much which makes for an easier stitch.
I firstly import the images into Adobe Lightroom, and do a very basic edit on them there before exporting them as 16 bit TIFF.
At this point I import the tifs into Autopano Giga using the Gigapan import module. This aligns the images in the rows and columns in which they were shot.
Once Autopano Giga has done the panorama detection stage, I go into the panorama editor to make sure everything is lining up as expected, and use the editing tools such as the geometry correction tools or the control point editor to fix any bad links between the images. Usually I get a fairly good result without having to do much editing, but it’s great to have those tools there to correct things when required.
From there I render the panorama as a 16 bit TIFF, and import it back into Adobe Lightroom for final editing. If anything needs to be cleaned up in the panorama, I will finally take it into Adobe Photoshop and do any cleanup of bad alignments or artefacts there.
What Autopano Giga features are you using the most in your workflow?
I love all the editing tools in Autopano Giga and do tend to play around with the different projection modes as well, but for me the best tool to give you perfect alignment between your images every time is the control point editor.
Modern cameras are capturing better and bigger pictures than ever. If this trend goes on do you think image stitching will still be of interest in the future?
There will always be a requirement for image stitching no matter how many megapixels a camera can shoot, as you’ll still never be able shoot images with a longer focal length, and a wide field of view which stitched panoramas allow you to do.
Any tips for someone who would like to start making night panoramas?
Start with single row panoramas shooting in portrait format and use at least a 24mm lens so you get less distortion in the images to enable better stitching. And make sure you allow for at least a 40% overlap between images.
Thank you Mark!
Disclaimer: all pictures on this page are the sole propriety of Mark Gee.
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